Steven Spielberg: Behind the Scenes Essay (Movie Review)

Biography

Steven Spielberg is an award winning filmmaker whose career as a Hollywood heavyweight spans over a period of more than four decades. In the course of his career, Spielberg has produced commercially successful Hollywood blockbusters. Some sources consider Spielberg to be the most commercially successful film director of all time.

Spielberg is also known for his ability to crisscross between movie genres with outstanding success. Over the course of his career, Spielberg has won numerous awards, broken box office records, and paved way for some movie genres. This essay focuses on the directorial career of Steven Spielberg with attention on some of his films.

Steven Spielberg was born in the year 1947 in Cincinnati, Ohio to Leah and Arnold Spielberg. Spielberg’s father worked as an electrical engineer while his mother was a restaurateur who dabbled as a concert pianist (Bio, 2015). When the filmmaker was young his family changed residences a number of times between places such as Arizona, New Jersey, and finally in San Jose California.

Spielberg’s interest in filmmaking began while he was in his teens and he began recording home movies using amateur cameras. As a high school student, Spielberg shot various short films using his favorite movies as parodies. In 1958, Spielberg received distinction as a Boy Scout photographer and he won an award for his work in “Escape to Nowhere”.

Spielberg’s first complete film was “Firelight”, and it was completed in 1964. After completing high school, Spielberg was unable to join any reputable film school on the account of his poor grades. Consequently, Spielberg was admitted to California State University in Long Beach.

Nevertheless, Spielberg spent most of his time in school sneaking into movie sets and soon after, he dropped out of college to pursue movie making on a full time basis. After his stint as an amateur filmmaker, Spielberg ventured into professional filmmaking by entering some of his earliest works in film festivals across the world. Later on, Spielberg would become one of the most sought after movie directors in Hollywood, win various awards, and break a few records.

Career

After venturing into professional filmmaking, Spielberg’s first film was 1968’s “Amblin”, a twenty-six minute film that he made while working as an intern for Universal Studios. In 1969, Spielberg took his first job as a professional director when he was hired as an assistant director of a pilot episode for a television program.

Later on, Spielberg’s work as the director of a full episode of “The Name of the Game” impressed studio bosses and Universal Studios signed him on for a four-film contract (Vespa, 2015). Spielberg directed “Duel” in 1971 and although it was meant to be a television movie, its critical success prompted the film’s producers to release it theatrically.

After gaining some independence as film director, Spielberg’s first film was “The Sugarland Express” in 1974. Nevertheless, the film did not gain any financial or critical success. It was Spielberg’s next film in 1975- “Jaws” that introduced the world to the filmmaker. When “Jaws” was released, it grossed more than $470 million at the box office thereby becoming the highest grossing movie of all time in 1975. After “Jaws”, Spielberg became a household name in Hollywood and added to his credibility as a reputable director.

Spielberg went on to write and direct “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in 1977 and through this film, he received his first Academy Award nomination for ‘Best Director’. In 1981, Spielberg formed “Amblin Entertainment” a television and film production company and went on to release most of his early works through this company.

Other filmmakers also used Amblin Entertainment as an outfit for releasing their works. In 1994, Spielberg teamed up with other two filmmakers to form DreamWorks SKG Studios. Since its formation, DreamWorks has become one of the most reputable film studios in the world.

Major Works

After the critical and financial success of both “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Spielberg was able to work more independently without close scrutiny of studio executives. In 1981, Spielberg directed the first film in the highly successful Indiana Jones’ series “Raiders of the Lost Ark” starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. In 1982, Spielberg broke another box office record with the release of “E.T The Extraterrestrial”.

The filmmaker also received unprecedented success through the “Jurassic Park” film series. However, in 1993 Spielberg sought to move away from the adventure film blockbusters and into drama films. The first of Spielberg’s drama film was “Schindler’s List”, which was released in 1993. The transition into drama for Spielberg proved to be a great success because “Schindler’s List” won him two Academy awards.

Other notable Spielberg’s works as a producer include “The Goonies”, “Back to the Future”, and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”. As a director, Spielberg is responsible for “Saving Private Ryan” a film that was released in 1998 and subsequently gained critical acclaim and runaway commercial success (Hindley, 1999).

In recent times, Spielberg has had a hand in directing “War of the Worlds” in 2005 a film that grossed over half a billion dollars in the box office. “Lincoln” another 2012 film by Spielberg also earned great critical acclaim by earning a record twelve Academy Awards. Spielberg is set to direct a film adaptation of “The BFG”, a children’s novel and release it in July of 2016.

Awards and Honors

From the onset of his career, it was apparent that Spielberg was going to break barriers through his unique film making abilities. Consequently, Steven Spielberg has won various accolades in the course of his filmmaking career. The most notable aspect of Spielberg’s filmmaking is the fact that he is able to connect “old-styles, thrilling adventure stories with technical virtuosity, careful craftsmanship, and the latest developments in special effects” (Kenworthy, 2015, p. 23).

Some of the major awards that Steven Spielberg has won over the course of his career include the 1986 “Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award” courtesy of the ‘Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’. Furthermore, Spielberg received the 1994 Academy Awards for ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Director’ courtesy of his film “Schindler’s List”.

On the academic front, Spielberg was honored with an honorary degree by the University of Southern California in 1994. Spielberg won another ‘Best Director Academy Award’ in 1999 for his work in the movie “Saving Private Ryan”. In 2004, the Directors Guild of America honored Spielberg with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

The following year, Spielberg was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. The filmmaker was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November of 2015, an honor that is often reserved for the most influential civilians (Freer, 2001).

Film Critique

Most of Spielberg’s have had a thematic exploitation of humanity’s primal fears as explored in the 1975 film “Jaws”, or a boyish adventurous spirit like the 1977 “Encounters of the Third Kind”. Later Spielberg movies have explored historical quagmires such as “Schindler’s List”, the Indiana Jones Series, and “Saving Private Ryan”. In this section, I will review two of Spielberg’s outstanding works in the form of the 2001 science fiction film “A.I: Artificial Intelligence” and the 2012 biopic about President Abraham Lincoln “Lincoln”.

A.I Artificial Intelligence

“A.I Artificial Intelligence” is a 2001 film by director Steven Spielberg. The movie was originally a project of the late filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and the screenplay was written by Ian Watson. The plot for “Artificial Intelligence” was based on a children’s short story. Spielberg adopted the project from Kubrick in the year 1995, but he only began working on the film in 1999. “A.I Artificial Intelligence” features unique aspects of Spielberg’s contribution to film including his editing techniques.

The film is a story about a robot-boy who is programmed to have the ability to express love. The editing of the film features both Spielberg’s unique abilities and the grand expectations that Kubrick had on the film. Originally, Kubrick had felt that the film needed to be edited in a manner that ensured that the role of the robot boy was passed on to an adult actor.

The editing of “A.I Artificial Intelligence” had to ensure that the emotional aspect of the robotic character was adequately conveyed to the audiences and Spielberg succeeded in doing so. The visuals of the film are mainly aimed at capturing the element of emotions. For instance, the austerity of the visuals in “A.I” is able to capture the emotionless nature of the host family.

The soundtrack of “A.I Artificial Intelligence” coincides with Spielberg’s innate need to touch on the hearts and minds of the audience. The soberness of the soundtrack echoes the emotional turmoil that transpires when a robot boy who has the ability to love is introduced to a seemingly emotionless family. The camerawork that is utilized in this movie is characteristic of Spielberg’s top-notch quality and it is accompanied by lighting that compliments the use of robotics.

Lincoln

“Lincoln” is a biopic about the famous American President Abraham Lincoln and Spielberg intended the movie to carry both historical and emotional significance. The iconic President is represented on screen by Daniel Day-Lewis. The score for the “Lincoln” is delivered by the legendary composer John Williams. The pedigree of this composer does not go to waste because the film’s sound and music are able to stand on their own during the two-and-a-half-hour movie (Alexander, 2012).

The soundtrack of the film also mimics the aura of the main character as opposed to the collective art form of the film. On the other hand, the film’s cinematography is mainly aimed at capturing the aura of the late 1800s. From Lincoln’s iconic beard and top hat, Spielberg does not take any risks with the film’s imagery.

Consequently, unlike most of Spielberg’s films the use of special effects and sophisticated camerawork is limited for authenticity purposes. For instance, there is heavy use of steady cameras that mainly focus on the main character. Spielberg’s editing is informed by the fact that the film features long-winded dialogues that are characteristic of the 1865 setting. “Lincoln” is a parade of Spielberg’s accumulated experience as a filmmaker whereby he utilizes the best experts and techniques to present historic art.

References

Alexander, B. (2012, November 8). Steven Spielberg brings Lincoln to life. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2012/11/08/steven-spielberg-lincoln-daniel-day-lewis/1689871/

Bio. (2015, December 1). Steven Spielberg Biography. Retrieved from http://www.biography.com/people/steven-spielberg-9490621

Hindley, M. (1999). Endowment for the Humanities: Steven Spielberg. Retrieved from http://www.neh.gov/about/awards/national-humanities-medals/steven-spielberg

Kenworthy, C. (2015). Shoot like Spielberg: The visual secrets of action, wonder and emotional adventure. New York: Real Estate Books.

Freer, I. (2001). The complete Spielberg. London: Virgin Books.

Vespa, J. (2015, December 1). Steven Spielberg Biography. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/112325/Steven-Spielberg/biography

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